Father’s Day Thoughts 2018: A Tribute To My Noodling Dad!!

On my fishing trip yesterday, on the cusp of Father’s Day, I thought a lot about my Dad, Benjamin Franklin Duerksen.  Now how many men do you know named after that Founding Father!  I am sure he was smiling at the fun I was having catching those frisky trout.  He gave me my love of the outdoors—we spent many days and nights on the banks of the Little Ar-Kansas River near my hometown in Kansas fishing with worms and frogs for channel catfish, bullhead, and anything else that would bite.  Dad was also a pro at noodling—illegal handfishing for big flathead catfish.  Even Mennonites have vices!!

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Dad With Fishing Buddies In Front Of Our House On Maple Street in Buhler, Kansas.  Big Flathead Catfish Caught Noodling In Cow Creek Near Hutch, KS.

We later graduated to minnows and lures in lakes and chasing white bass, crappie, and anything else that would bite.  On those exciting overnight trips to Kanopolis Reservoir, 60 miles away, we just slept in the big old 1951 DeSoto car, Dad in the front seat and me in the back.

A Big Old DeSoto Circa 1951–Like Our Fishing Car

We also spent a lot of time bird watching, especially on Sunday.  After Sunday School he would head out into the sandhills in the DeSoto with my sister Susan and me while Mom was fixing our dinner (noon meal).  I still have my first Audobon bird book…a prized possession.

Dad was a simple, laid-back Mennonite farm boy.  He played football in college at 5’8” and 150 pounds, married Mom the day after she graduated from high school in 1942, served on the crew of a B-17 bomber in the Army Air Corps in WWII (which was highly unusual for a Mennonite kid given Mennonites are a pacifist religion).  He came back home to farm with his father after the war, then started teaching in the 1950s to supplement the farm income when a couple of wheat crops got hailed out.  He taught math and social studies for over 30 years in nearby small-town grade schools, sometimes serving as principal, always coaching basketball and baseball.  A couple of years he coached my Cub Scout baseball team to the regional championship.  We sat in front of the radio and listened and went to a lot of Hutch Juco and Wichita State basketball games together back then.  On special trips to Kansas City, we watched the old KC Athletics at Municipal Stadium—still remember seeing Mantle and Maris hit back-to-back homers in 1960, the year Maris broke Ruth’s record.  I got us into trouble when I jumped onto the field after the game to run the bases.  Fortunately he rescued me before the umps could corral me.  Thankfully he continued to farm so I got to spend a lot of time with him every summer driving tractor, hauling wheat to the mills, plowing fields, planting wheat in the fall while listening to the World Series on my transistor radio.  Not many boys get to spend so much what we now call “quality” time with their dads.  Not saying at the time I fully appreciated the dawn-to-dark work regimen during plowing season!

Dad was very easy-going.  I only saw him lose his temper a couple of times and the closest he came to cussing was saying “by damn!”  But he was also very competitive—never ever did he let me beat him at ping-pong or checkers, although I could best him on the b-ball court in H-O-R-S-E.  He still shot a two-handed set shot of his day so I called jump and hook shots which he had trouble with.  Mom was the day-to-day disciplinarian in the family, but believe me I remember well each of the three spankings I got from him.  The worst was when as a teenager I was disrespectful of my Mom.  Yikes!!  Lesson learned!!

Dad Through The Years Through His School Yearbook Photos

Dad never pushed me in sports or academics, and indeed he didn’t say a word when in my junior year in college I switched my long-time plan to be a doctor and instead went to law school.  But I think I got his slight nod of approval the day after my graduation from law school, which he and Mom had driven to Chicago to attend.  He was leaning back in a big easy chair in our apartment when he looked at me and asked, “So how much does a young lawyer make these days?”  That was an unusual question from a Mennonite–they don’t dwell much on money.  I answered, “About $16,000.”  Which was about twice what he was making as a teacher after years in the classroom.  His response?  “Hmmm, I guess being a lawyer isn’t so bad after all.”  I still can’t stop laughing when I think about that!!  Thanks, Dad, for everything.  Miss you.

On The Road Again…In Search Of America

“So we bought a pack of cigarettes and Mrs. Wagner pies

And walked off to look for America.” 

America…Simon and Garfunkel

It’s time for my annual migration to Florida and warmer climes.  The late fall and early winter weather in the Colorado mountains has been positively pleasing, allowing extra sunny days to explore remote canyons and chase wild trout.  But now the cold is seeping in, so I get ready to hightail it to the subtropics.

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On The Road Again…Goodbye Winter

I like to take the back roads when pulling my travel trailer (aka mobile fish camp) on the long 2,000+ mile journey, avoiding the big trucks roaring by on the interstates with their big backwash that sets my rig to swerving back and forth on the hitch.  Anyway, it’s lots more fun, relaxing, and enlightening to get off the straight-as-an arrow highways and see the real America.  Back in the 60’s the Simon and Garfunkel tune “America” was my generation’s anthem….they’ve all gone to look for America.   I continue to do so.  More and more it seems like a country and place I don’t always understand.  When I served as a city councilman in Fredericksburg, Virginia, in the 80s I always felt that if citizens got the facts they would eventually make the right common-sense decisions in the country’s and fellow American’s best interests.  Now I am not so sure.  But each year I come away from my peregrinations around the country feeling hopeful, optimistic.  So here we go…

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Happy New Year: Going Balmy In The Balmy Banana Belt (near Salida, CO)

“Nothing Makes A Fish Bigger Than Almost Being Caught!”

December 30, 2017

Some of my cheeky friends accuse me of being a tad balmy for my dedication to piscatorial pursuits.  Just to confirm these suspicions, I decided this last week of 2017 to take advantage of balmy weather in Colorado’s Banana Belt to chase trout several times in the Big Ark River around Salida, Colorado.

Locals use the term “Banana Belt” somewhat tongue-in-cheek.  At an elevation of some 7,500 feet, Salida admittedly does not have tropical or even subtropical weather any time of year.  But in truth, it is a remarkably warm high mountain  valley when compared to surrounding alpine communities–Fairplay, Gunnison, Saguache–just over the passes to the north, west, and south.  They are truly frigid!  Indeed, this past couple of weeks we have been just as warm in Salida, and often much warmer, than mile-high Denver.  The temps pushed 60 degrees several times.  That’s not to say the fishing is a snap.  Some tips follow that may put a big rainbow trout or brown on your line before winter really arrives.

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The Ice Man Cometh–And With Him A Time To Reflect On 2017 And Hopes For 2018

“Many men go fishing all their lives without knowing it is not the fish they are after.”  Henry David Thoreau

December 19, 2017

The Ice Man Cometh this weekend sayeth the weatherman….so time to sneak away for one last outing in the water and dances with trout.  With 50 degree weather and light winds in the forecast, I decide to visit my home water, the Arkansas River just upstream from Salida.  I know a stretch where the valley is broad and the sunshine plentiful, even in winter, and hopefully the fish cooperative.

When I arrive at just after noon after a short 15-minute drive from my cabin, I am treated to a picture-perfect scene, abundant sunshine, and no ice flow on the river.  Two weeks ago several  nights of single digit temperatures had clogged up the water with ice, but now it’s flowing freely, at least for a couple of more days.

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The Arkansas River Below Big Bend

I used that spate of cold weather profitably, hunkering down inside with the fireplace going to tie up a bunch of my favorite fly pattern for the upcoming season—a concoction I created called a green hotwire beadhead caddis.  Naturally, it’s a simple tie—I am no Rembrandt at the fly-tying vise.  But it works, and how!!

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This Vise Is An Eminently Acceptable Vice To Pursue
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Hotwire Beadhead Caddis Nymph

I wade into one of my familiar reliable pools, the water frigid despite wearing three pairs of socks underneath my neoprene waders.  On my third cast the little yellow yarn strike indicator, below which dangle two nymphs, hesitates ever so slightly.  I lift my rod slowly and it’s FISH ON!  Just a little brownie, but a good start.  No skunk for me on this final 2017 outing.

For the next hour or so, I have a ball laying out long casts over the crystal clear water.  At the end of the year fly casting becomes so natural, so easy, so graceful that it’s a treat in itself to watch the line unfurl, and the tiny flies alight delicately on the water exactly where the cast was aimed.  A bonus is hooking an occasional trout.  The first half-dozen are small (all on the beadhead caddis except for one on a big stonefly nymph), but then a nice 14-inch brown surprises me by nailing the caddis in a shallow, fast mid-stream run where the fish are not supposed to be this time of year.

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Trout On Ice

Usually they retreat to deeper pools where the slow-moving water is warmer.  Then if to prove the point, 15 minutes later an even bigger, stronger 15-inch rainbow gobbles the caddis nymph in a deeper hole off the main current.

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Chunky Rainbow Provides Exclamation Point For 2017 Angling Adventures

As I release the shiny beauty, I take a seat on the bank and reflect on what a wonderful world we have and what a wonderful year 2017 has been thanks to family, friends, and yes, fish.  Great gifts and a refuge in turbulent times.  My little sweetheart of a granddaughter, Aly, went from baby to toddler in a flash, and along the way exhibited a strong predilection for running water and playing in creeks.  Sure way to grandpa’s heart!!

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My Sweetheart Aly–That’s a Stick In Her Hand, Not A Flyrod…Yet!

I have had many great adventures in the wilds this year, alone and with friends.  Solitude and pristine nature abounded and surrounded me, kept me peaceful and sane.  It has been written that fishing is a perpetual series of occasions of hope, elusive but attainable.  And so it is with life.  2017 has been a wonderful year, and I see hope on the water and in the world for 2018.  My best to all my readers, compatriots, and friends for the New Year.  Here is a tribute to 2017 in pictures….indeed a wonderful world!!

2016:  Ringing In The New While Clinging To And Cherishing The Familiar

December 2015

Two backcountry kayak fishing trips in December led me to settle on a New Year’s Resolution:  I will seek a balance in all things between exploring the new and cherishing the old and familiar in my life.

There is little that excites me as much as exploring new waters, especially in remote pristine wild areas.  What’s around that next bend in the lake or what is lurking in that alluring dark hole in the mangrove tunnel at the S-curve in the creek?  The lightly traveled Fakahatchee River that springs Fax GPSfrom the Everglades near the Tamiami Trail then wends its way to the Gulf of Mexico is a perfect example.  The put-in point is just across the road from a popular tourist site—a recreated Seminole Village with thatched roof huts.  It is one of the few backcountry creeks I haven’t paddled.  Indeed, I have never seen a vehicle or boats at the clearing in the mangroves where you can launch a kayak.  Why?  The answer seems to be captured in Jeff Ripple’s Kayaking Guide to the Everglades in which he warns this is the toughest, most challenging route in his excellent book.

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